As loss of pollinator habit continues to threaten native bees, more fruit growers globally are turning to pollinator conservation food plans that include wildflower banks on the edges of orchards and hedgerows of flowering perennial shrubs planned along established irrigation ditches.
“As fruit growers, we depend on pollinators. Enhancing the natural habitat available to native bees and honey bees is a win-win…these projects will offer forage and nesting resources for bees and increase bee diversity and abundance. We may even see supplemental pollination services for our crops through the impact of these initiatives.” says President of Rainier Fruit, Mark Zirkle in an interview with Bee Culture.
Globally pollinator conservation frameworks are guiding localised initiatives for the conservation of pollinators as they are considered an important link between our agriculture, forestry, biodiversity, food security, food safety and nutrition. By fostering sustainable practices in our agricultural sector we have the potential to not only increase productivity, but ensure the sustainability of food production systems.
For our pollinators these habitat programs could have far reaching benefits in reducing pesticide usage, as Andy Tudor, VP of Business Development at Rainier Fruit explains to Bee Culture “A lot of work goes into preparing these sites so we can ensure the longevity of these projects…we are waiting until the fall of 2019 to plant some of the areas so we can make sure that each site is adequately prepared and the wildflower plantings won’t be under heavy weed pressure. We’re also planning accordingly so we can minimize or eliminate pesticide use once the pollinator habitats have been planted.”
Here in South Africa, we are seeing traction in this direction with collaborative projects by Valuing Orchard and Integrated Ecosystem Services (VOICES) and the University of Leeds, University of Stellenbosch and HortGro. This project has attracted international funding for the applied research in sustainable apple production in South Africa under the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund.
The project aims to develop sustainability within the apple industry of the Elgin, Grabouw, Vyeboom and Villiersdorp (EGVV) regions, addressing ecology and socio-economic factors. Ecologically the project is ‘testing whether specific cover crops can enhance the natural control of crop pest species’ and growing ‘cover crops to attract beneficial insects such as bees and wasps’ that compliment other environmental management practices, such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM).’
As the program targets quantifying the economic benefits of this shift in agricultural practice, the farm Dennegeur is collaborating with the project to determine the value of this, and leading the way by contributing to a program directed to improve biodiversity, sustainability and ecosystem function within the South African pome fruit industry.
Over the 2017-18 growing season a pilot study measured pollinator activity, pollination and sampling natural enemy communities such as parasitoid wasps. In 2018-2019, with Dennegeur’s ongoing support, the next phase will test the effect of floral cover crops on beneficial insects and the benefit they offer in sustainable apple production. This past April the project installed cover crop beds and planted two different cover crop systems for trial. ‘Sweet alyssum monocrop and a diverse mix of different flowering plants with a focus on native species.’ As these crops grow through the winter months they will offer resource in Spring, at which time the project will monitor the effects specifically on codling moth egg and mealy bug parasitism.
To date, the Pryke lab of the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology have processed samples from the 2017-18 pilot study (which still need to be confirmed by DNA studies from CIAT France), however results show that there are potentially 155 insects from 33 different species gathering. These included wild bees, parasitoid/parasitic wasps and parasitic flies. It would appear that overall ‘the diversity of beneficial insects found at Dennegeur seems promising, especially given the high density of apple production in the landscape and distance from natural areas’, concluded the project overview.
Stephen Rabe, Chairperson of Hortgro Science Advisory Committee, summed up their participation for The Bee Effect “Any well-designed scientific project aimed at quantifying the efforts made by Growers to ensure sustainable orchard practices needs to be prioritized and supported. This collaborative effort by the University of Leeds and University of Stellenbosch is an example of this. Growers are aware of the dwindling forage sites and are keen to establish and protect those species that provide sustenance for pollinators(bees) as well as creating a favorable environment for natural predators to flourish in. This Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to managing the challenges faced by commercial growers is endorsed and supported by work done by the crop protection and crop production workgroups within Hortgro Science.”
And the beat goes on, as the world mobilizes change.
EU Pollinators Initiative EU_pollinators_initiative